Could do better: the SNP's failures in education look likely to turn into its toxic legacy

Written by Jenni Davidson on 2 July 2019 in Comment

While botched Brexit and turbo austerity will be the Tories’ toxic legacy from this current period, lost learning looks to be the SNP’s

School science - Image credit: Holyrood

When Nicola Sturgeon announced that she wanted the SNP government to be judged on its record in education, surely she was not intending that to mean in the sense of being condemned by it.

Like Tony Blair’s government of two decades ago, the current Scottish Government has made education its top priority – only without the catchy tagline and demonstrable successes.

When Blair committed his government to ‘education, education, education’ in 1997, this led to a doubling of funding for schools, fewer failing schools, rising standards, reduced class sizes and expanded higher education. But for the SNP, it has been a sorry trail of one failure after another.

Children in senior secondary are being offered a narrower curriculum and fewer subjects in S4 and many more are being taught in mixed-level classes – sometimes up to four qualifications in the one class – while young people in more deprived schools are being given less choice of Higher subjects.

Those from a care background still do significantly worse than others and are less likely to pass Highers, meaning the reduced curriculum will affect them especially, with less than 40 per cent even gaining one National 5 qualification.

Add to this the continuation of P1 tests despite widespread opposition, a serious teacher recruitment shortage, a crisis in teacher workload and morale, failure to meet class-size targets, a reduction in music tuition, insufficient support for children with special needs, reports from teachers of widespread violence and behaviour problems in the classroom, the increasing college funding gap, and, just last week, one major employer telling the BBC of apprentices lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills.

If you want to talk about results, those are certainly some.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Scottish Government finally scrapped its ‘flagship’ education bill that was put temporarily on hold a year ago after failing to get backing from any of the opposition parties.

John Swinney trumpeted a “successful collaborative approach” with councils and teaching bodies, but there was little of significance to show: a headteachers’ charter, some new devolved school management guidelines for councils, a plan to increase engagement with parents and £5m to develop regional improvement collaboratives.

Of course, councils working together on a regional basis to share good practice and improvement is positive, but it’s hardly going to have a transformative impact that, say, having enough teachers, a decent curriculum and sufficient funding would.

And not even all the SNP’s own supporters are convinced. At the last SNP conference, the delegate next to me muttered “bullshit” right through John Swinney’s speech on the party’s education successes.

For a government that is utterly obsessed by children and young people, it has little to show in the way of tangible achievement in education.

As we reach the end of the parliamentary session, this government now has less than two years left of this parliament to turn education around, not just to restore its own reputation, but more importantly, for a generation of children who are being failed by it.

While botched Brexit and turbo austerity will be the Tories’ toxic legacy from this current period, lost learning looks to be the SNP’s.

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